South Carolina has enacted legislation (House Bill 3126) that requires private employers to provide exemptions for COVID-19 vaccination mandates, among other things. House Bill 3126 is effective immediately.
House Bill 3126 allows private employers to encourage, promote, or administer COVID-19 vaccinations and offer incentives to employees who elect to be vaccinated, but it adds the following restrictions to COVID-19 vaccination mandates.
COVID-19 vaccination exemptions:
Employers must provide an exemption from a COVID-19 vaccine or booster requirement for:
- Medical reasons: Such as a presence of antibodies, prior positive COVID-19 test or pregnancy; or
- Religious reasons: To claim this exemption, an employee must present to the employer a short, plain statement that they decline the immunization against COVID-19 because it violates a tenet of their deeply held religious beliefs.
Other Worker Protections:
Under the law, a private employer cannot extend vaccine mandates to independent contractors, non-employee vendors, or other third parties that provide goods or services to them or coerce such parties into implementing a vaccine mandate, to maintain a business relationship.
The law may not apply to employers that are:
- Subject to a federal regulation with a provision that opposes the law; or
- In a contract with or are seeking to enter a contract with the federal government or a subcontract with a federal or prospective federal contractor.
Employers may submit an affidavit to the Department of Employment and Workforce that attests that their current (or pending) contract has (or will have) a valid, enforceable provision that is contrary to the law’s vaccine mandates.
Note: An affidavit filed with the Department stays in effect until the employer revokes it.
Vaccination status discrimination:
Under the law, employers cannot:
- Discriminate against or segregate based on whether an individual has been vaccinated against or received a booster for COVID-19; or
- Attempt, or withhold, deny, deprive, intimidate, threaten, coerce, or punish an individual to interfere with their rights or privileges to vaccination non-discrimination.
The law also provides that everyone, regardless of their vaccination status, is entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation that the state licenses or permits an establishment or an agent of the following establishments:
- An inn, hotel, motel, or establishment that provides lodging to transient guests, unless it is located within a building that contains five or fewer rooms for rent or hire and is occupied by the proprietor as a residence.
- A restaurant, cafeteria, lunchroom, lunch counter, soda fountain, or another facility principally engaged in selling food for consumption on the premise that includes, but is not limited to, a facility located on the premises of a retail establishment or a gas station.
- A hospital, clinic, or another medical facility that provides overnight accommodations.
- A retail or wholesale establishment.
- A motion picture house, theater, concert hall, billiard parlor, saloon, barroom, golf course, sports arena, stadium, or another place of amusement, exhibition, recreation, or entertainment; and
- An establishment that is physically located within the premises of an establishment covered by the law or within a premise that is physically located in any such covered establishment and holds itself out as serving patrons of the covered establishment.
Note: Private clubs or establishments that are not open to the public are not covered.
An employee that is terminated, suspended or otherwise has their compensation reduced due to not receiving a COVID-19 vaccination or booster is eligible for unemployment benefits.
South Carolina employers should consult legal counsel to discuss the impact of House Bill 3126 on their vaccination policies and practices.